An employee at will is one who can be dismissed by the employer without notice, warning or any good reason. With at-will employees, the employer holds all the cards and if he/she decides that the employee should go, then the latter has very limited legal rights to contest the termination. Only under a few illegal situations can an employee seek benefits for losses due to the termination of at-will contracts.

Conversely, an at-will employee can vacate his/her job position without notice to the employer. If a worker commits to an at-will contract, then he/she doesn’t need any reason to leave and there is nothing much that an employer can do.

At will employment contracts have become common in recent years despite having been in existence since the late 19th century. This is because employers have realized the amount of flexibility that comes with at will contracts. Some argue that this kind of contract is beneficial to both boss and worker since they both get to work comfortably with minimal strings attached but a broader look shows that it is the former who gets the most out of it. For instance, an employer may decide to change the terms of employment such as wages and benefits at his/her own discretion with no legal consequence.

Soon after its conception, at will employment became the default in the U.S under common law. This applied to all new recruits unless stated otherwise. Most states have since made several amendments to include exceptions but at-will employment still remains active and a controversial point of discussion.

Exceptions for employees at will

Several exceptions have been incorporated into the at-will employment, some sponsored by both state and federal government. They include:

Statutory exception

All states have statutes protecting employees at will. Many cases presented under this exception pertain dismissal for discrimination.

Public policy exceptions

An employer cannot exercise his/her power over an at-will employee by firing or seeking damages over the said employee if doing so contradicts the state’s public policy or federal or state statute. This means that an employer cannot act against an employee if the latter performs an act in accordance with public policy or he/she refuses to undertake an action that would go against public policy.

There are only seven States in the U.S that don’t recognize the public policy exceptions. They include Albania, Rhode Island, Nebraska, Alabama, Maine, New York and Georgia.

Implied contract exception

Under this exception, an employer may not terminate an employee at will of an implied contract was formed between them, whether written or not.

Exceptions regarding good faith and fair dealings

If an employer’s motivation for terminating an employee at will is to escape having to pay for employee benefits such as retirement or healthcare, then the employee is protected by the covenant of good faith and fair dealings which is usually implied.